Made shortly before Adrien Brody bootstrapped his way onto Hollywood's A-list with his Academy Award-winning performance in THE PIANIST (2002), German director Peter Sehr's curious adaptation of a controversial Chinese novel is an uncomfortable combination of snappy, con-man comedy and disturbing psychodrama of degradation and self-destruction. New York City sharpie Jack (Brody) shares an apartment in an vacant South Bronx bank with his best buddy, Charlie (John Seda). Jack and Charlie are con-men, and their specialty involves rolling unsuspecting foreign tourists at the swanky New York City hotel that employs their eagle-eyed partner, Jeff (August Diehl), at the front desk. Jack and Charlie set up their targets with Debbie and Cara (Katherine Moenning, Michaela Conlin), two appetizing actresses impersonating hookers. Once everybody's cozy in an upstairs room Jack and Charlie, dressed as vice cops, kick down the door and shake down their terrified marks. When he's not extorting tourists, Jack escapes to the solitude of a storage locker where he's honing his skills as a pulp crime novelist. One afternoon at a downtown theater, Jack meets Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), a bright young Columbia University biology student whose innocent appearance belies a hardboiled streak and a taste for bad boys. She's instantly taken with the snake-skin clad hustler, and they're soon sharing smoldering repartee and a brief sexual encounter; the fling becomes grist for Jack's novel, but the ensuing relationship soon threatens his career. This solid, if familiar, neo-noir premise is nevertheless given a fresh spin by the funky NYC locales, the dubwise hip-hop soundtrack, the terrific chemistry between Brody and the underrated Seda and the one and only Pam Grier, who costars as a cop who's wise the hustlers' game. But once Jack dumps Claire, the picture takes on an far uglier tone. Claire devolves into the girl who won't be ignored after a one-night-stand; she stops going to classes, risks flunking out of school and pursues Jack with a glassy-eyed vengeance. And that's only the beginning: After worming her way into Jack and Charlie's operation, Claire starts turning tricks for real (often without a condom), striking back at the man who hurt her by attempting to destroying herself. Balancing the darkly comic with the tragically lurid is a tough trick; on a good day Jim Thompson could get the balance right, but Sehr simply seems to be cross-cutting between two entirely different movies. The first teases you into simply wanting to have a good time, while the other smacks you down for expecting such a thing.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: Made shortly before Adrien Brody bootstrapped his way onto Hollywood's A-list with his Academy Award-winning performance in THE PIANIST (2002), German director Peter Sehr's curious adaptation of a controversial Chinese novel is an uncomfortable combination… (more)